How to Buy a Gift According to the Social Sciences

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Having trouble finding the perfect gift this year? Arthur C. Brooks for the New York Times has compiled a guide to giving gifts this year according to the social sciences.

What do economists think is the perfect gift? (Take a guess…)

“For economists, the perfect gift is simple: cash. Indeed, they often express surprise that anyone would give anything else. There is even lively economics literature on the 'deadweight loss of Christmas.' One economist writing in the prestigious American Economic Review estimated this loss at between 10 and 33 percent — meaning that gifts we buy others are worth up to a third less to them than what they would buy for themselves if we just gave them the money instead.”

Unfortunately, psychologists disagree with the economists on this point.

One 2002 study by two psychologists entitled 'What Makes for a Merry Christmas?' in the Journal of Happiness Studies found that people reported feeling happier when their holidays focused more on religious faith, and less on money. This marks a major rift in the social sciences. While economists say you should give cold cash, psychologists apparently believe you should just say a nice little prayer for each person in lieu of a gift. Either way, you’ll be a huge hit.”

Sociologists, on the other hand, looked at the problem from the perspective of what happens when you get a bad gift. Women shrug it off, but men take it as a sign that the women were dissimilar from them. What does that mean? “In other words, it’s easier for women to wreck a new relationship with a bad gift.” Sociologists also found that women are better at giving gifts than men.

Brooks also gives us the perspective of a priest, “A wise lover values not so much the gift of the lover as the love of the giver,” and a poet, “The only gift is a portion of thyself. Thou must bleed for me.”

Taking all of these opinions into account, Brooks’s advice is simple: “Try to give people what they value, but if you mess up, it isn’t a big deal to the people who truly love you.”

Image Credit: Alan Cleaver via Flickr Creative Commons